6.1 The uniform Evidence Acts introduced sweeping reforms to the rules governing the admissibility of documentary evidence. The most significant of these is the abolition of the original document rule.[1] Under the common law, the contents of a document can only be proved by tendering the original document. There are several exceptions to this rule where the original is unavailable. Generally, however, secondary evidence of the contents of the document is not admissible. Section 51 of the uniform Evidence Acts provides that ‘[t]he principles and rules of the common law that relate to the means of proving the contents of a document are abolished’.

6.2 The uniform Evidence Acts also greatly widen the definition of ‘document’. At common law, ‘a document is essentially an object upon which is visibly inscribed intelligible writing or figures’.[2] The uniform Evidence Acts define ‘document’ as any record of information, including:

(a) anything on which there is writing; or

(b) anything on which there are marks, figures, symbols or perforations having a meaning for persons qualified to interpret them; or

(c) anything from which sounds, images or writings can be reproduced with or without the aid of anything else; or

(d) a map, plan, drawing or photograph.[3]

6.3 The wide definition of the term ‘document’ and the allowable means of proof are said to ‘greatly increase the flexibility of the law to admit the contents of documents into evidence’.[4]

6.4 Other reforms introduced by the uniform Evidence Acts relate to cross-examination on documents,[5] refreshing memory from documents[6] and proving attested documents.[7]

[1] Uniform Evidence Acts s 51.

[2] J Gans and A Palmer, Australian Principles of Evidence (2nd ed, 2004), 72.

[3] Uniform Evidence Acts Dictionary, Pt 1. ‘This definition needs to be coupled with that contained in s 47(1) … which sets the scope for the rules contained in Part 2.2’:J Gans and A Palmer, Australian Principles of Evidence (2nd ed, 2004), 73.

[4] J Anderson, J Hunter and N Williams, The New Evidence Law: Annotations and Commentary on the Uniform Evidence Acts (2002), 105.

[5] Uniform Evidence Acts s 45.

[6] See V Bell, ‘Documentary Evidence under the Evidence Act 1995 (NSW)’ (2001) 5 The Judicial Review 1.

[7] Uniform Evidence Acts s 149. Where the validity of a document depends on it having been properly attested, at common law it is necessary to prove this fact by calling one of the attesting witnesses to testify, unless the witnesses are unavailable or a presumption of validity applies. Section 149 does away with this requirement.